Prepare for Trench Warfare
What if China isn’t half so desperate for a deal as the president believes?
Are we in for an extended siege of economic trench warfare?
Today we explore possibilities… and their implications.
We first direct our gaze to Wall Street.
Investors came crouching from their shelters this morning… as if expecting an aftershock to the quake that drove them underground yesterday.
With Monday’s 617-point battering — piling atop last week’s losses — three months of stock market gains have vanished into the ether.
The S&P 500 endured its 15th-largest decline in history yesterday. It has shed $1.1 trillion since May 5 alone.
Markets Bounce Back
But the Earth held today. And investors cleared away some of yesterday’s wreckage.
The Dow Jones rebounded 207 points.
The S&P reclaimed 23 of the 70 points it lost yesterday. The Nasdaq gained 87.
Markets were encouraged by President Trump’s comments that he will strike a deal with China “when the time is right.”
He will have an opportunity at the G20 summit in late June. There he will meet China’s Xi Jinping, for whom his “respect and friendship is unlimited.”
But is China sweating dreadfully for a trade deal as Trump assumes?
China Braces for Escalation
China does — after all — ship some $500 billion of products to these shores each year.
It cannot afford to sit on them like a broody hen.
But you might have another guess, says the director of monetary policy at the People’s Bank of China:
As for the change in the domestic and external economic environment, China has sufficient leeway and a deep monetary policy toolkit, and so has full ability to deal with [economic] uncertainties.
But here we cite a government mouthpiece, a marionette in human form. You no more trust his word than you would trust a dog with your dinner.
But affirms Brad Setser, senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations:
Trump’s escalation comes at an awkward time, but if push comes to shove, they’re quite capable of supporting growth through more investment and credit.
There may be justice here.
Twice as Much Stimulus as During the Financial Crisis
If you believe the Federal Reserve is a gargantuan spigot of credit, the People’s Bank of China brings it to shame.
ING estimates China has pledged 8 trillion yuan in economic support — twice as much “stimulus” as it offered during the global financial crisis.
And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates China’s fiscal stimulus this year equals 4.25% of GDP… up from 2.94% last year.
Meantime, Chinese domestic consumption has been on the increase.
Growth through increased consumption — say the economics wiseacres in practice among us — reduces dependence on exports.
Is most of this stimulus woefully wasteful? Does it finance vastly unproductive economic activity?
Yes and yes.
Is the way to wealth through consumption — rather than production?
No, it is not.
But if Chinese authorities believe they can offset lost exports by bellowing credit and vomiting money… they may choose to dig in for the long haul.
“A nation is never as happy as when it’s at war”
A trade war may even rally the people to the colors…
A nation is never as happy as when it’s at war — even trade war.
War gives the people enemies to hate… and leaders to love.
What better way to distract a people from their own government’s eternal swinishness, its infinite rascality?
Despite all contrary appearance, the United States government does not run a corner on either.
In fact, China’s state media took to the warpath Monday.
It shouted for a “people’s war” against Mr. Trump’s “greed and arrogance.”
And why not? It could argue…
‘China is a proud, accomplished and ancient nation, with roots sunk deep into history.
It is the “Middle Kingdom,” the center to which all the world’s divergent rays bend.
Who are these upstart Americans to shove us around?’
Economic “Trench Warfare”
We would remind the president — respectfully — that wars are far easier to start than finish.
The boys will be home by Christmas, they gloated in August 1914.
Four years later they were still in the trenches — or in boxes.
Could the United States and China soon be locked in the extended stalemate of economic “trench warfare”?
The strategists at Deutsche Bank’s chief investment office fear so:
Unless a deal can be struck quickly in the coming weeks, markets will need to prepare themselves for an extended period of economic trench warfare. And large listed U.S. companies in particular could well find themselves in the line of fire.
China has previously chosen to “wait, strategically inflict pain, delay and hope U.S. pressure eventually goes away.”
But China has heaved aside that option, argues Deutsche Bank.
Now it is reaching for its shovel… and preparing to hunker in.
The nature of trade wars (like actual wars) is that they foster nationalist sentiment and jingoism. The first shots are fired in the hope of quick victories. And before you know it, both sides are stuck in the trenches, with no obvious and politically feasible way out.
The coming weeks may well yield the answer.
But how will markets hold up if diplomacy collapses?
All Pressure May Fall on Trump
A failed trade deal was sufficient to send stocks careening this past week.
President Trump has all his cargo loaded on two wagons — the stock market and economy.
If either cracks an axle, if either collapses under the strain, his reelection prospects collapse in turn.
Therefore, argues analyst Sven Henrich of Northman Trader, all pressure rests upon the presidential shoulders of Donald J. Trump:
Because for Trump there’s an election to worry about. The Chinese don’t have an election to worry about and that puts the time pressure on Trump, not the Chinese. The Chinese will continue to intervene and yesterday they showed backbone and followed through on retaliation. But because the U.S. election cycle clock is ticking Donald Trump cannot afford a trade war extending into the end of the year, especially if the consequences of such a protracted trade war would spill into the larger economy.
Will the Great Negotiator be the one to blink first?
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning